[Photos below.] Flatbush was the scene of an important political event this past Tuesday night, as all the Democratic candidates for Mayor attended a candidate forum organized and hosted by the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition (FJCC), in conjunction with COJO of Flatbush.
Josh Mehlman chaired the event, and stated to the candidates that the greater Flatbush Jewish community is the largest in the city, and the FJCC is the broad based coalition of business and community leaders formed to insure that its unique concerns are addressed in the next administration. It is crucial, he stated, that the next mayor “respects our lifestyle and beliefs and works with us on all issues, local and citywide. This will make the city a better place for all.”
The forum was expertly moderated by Mr. Avi Schick, Flatbush resident and FJCC board member. Well known to the candidates from his many years in government, Mr. Schick a lawyer by trade, began by humorously reminding the assembled candidates of the many times he was forced to sit through grueling hearings in front them and their committees and tonight was an opportunity for “pay back” time.
For ninety unrelenting minutes, the candidates answered questions on topics of interest and deep concern to the Flatbush Jewish community. Dozens of questions had been submitted in advance by Flatbush residents, and the candidates were forced to confront pointed questions and take positions on issues ranging from education funding and religious liberty to real estate and water tax hikes to the all important safety and security of our community and Jewish institutions in a question asked directly by FJCC board member Menachem Lubinsky.
The candidates all criticized the City’s approach to special education placements, which requires parents to endure costly and time-consuming litigation before their children get the placements they are entitled to, and all pledged to scrap that system if elected. Community leader and FJCC board member Leon Goldenberg, who posed the special education placements question, said that “he was glad that there was a consensus that the current system is wrong and cruel, and the FJCC looks forward to working with the next Mayor to fix it.”
The candidates also all agreed that the City can and should do more to financially assist our Yeshivos and parents, with several coming out in favor of government support for teaching secular studies such as math and history. According to FJCC board member Chaskel Bennett, “tuition relief is an issue the community overwhelmingly grapples with and it was important to get the candidates to go on record. The candidates needed to hear directly from the people and tonight they did.
The candidates also addressed Hurricane Sandy relief, with most pledging to permit religious institutions and Houses of Worship to receive Hurricane Sandy relief aid administered by the City. Activists involved with the Sandy relief efforts, bemoaned federal policy and federal agencies that does not always permit Shuls and religious institutions to qualify for funding, and the crowd was clearly pleased to hear the candidates pledge to enact City policy that is equitable and accommodating.
In addressing the circumcision consent form, which the city’s health department has tried to regulate by requiring mohelim to obtain written consent from parents (a lawsuit is challenging the city’s action), the candidates reiterated positions they had staked at a previous forum. All but Ms. Quinn said the city’s actions were mismanaged.
Mr. Selgado, made a strong case, saying “Jews came from all over the world to New York to be able to exercise freedom of religion.” Stopping metzeitza b’peh is just the first step toward banning bris milah altogether, he warned. “This is unacceptable. It should be up to leaders of the community,” Bringing loud applause from the crowd.
Mr.Thompson cited a lack of understanding of Orthodox life in government as evident in ticketing of homeowners who put their garbage out before Shabbos for Saturday pickup, the lack of library hours that accommodate Orthodox Jews, and in the case of the metzeitza b’peh situation, he said “there was no discussion. The mayor imposed something and moved forward [rather than] sit down and have that conversation.” In his administration, Thompson said, there would be more dialogue on the topic.
Former Congressman Weiner said “the city overreached. I’m a liberal, but I believe there is a liberal elitist condescension when it comes to religion in our city. We don’t just see it in the frum community. When churches wanted to use public school buildings the city fought them tooth and nail.”
Metzeitza b’peh “is thousands of years of tradition. I may not believe it, someone else who is a bureaucrat may not believe it, but that is not the test. The test is do the mayor of the City of New York understand the very basic value of our civil liberties,” stated Anthony Weiner.
Public Advocate Bill De Blasio also said his administration will “get together with the community leaders and figure out a way to protect children’s health and also respect religion. I believe both can be accomplished.”
Comptroller John Liu also took Bloomberg to task as “a supposedly beneficent billionaire mayor who seems to know more than anyone else. I say leave it to the rabbis.”
But NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that while she heard that “the mayor did not have the right conversation with the community,” the current regulation in place “balances religious freedom with public health.” Clearly annoying the crowd.
Things then took an interesting and fast-paced turn when Schick opened up a lightning round of questions, polling the candidates on their own political hero: Quinn chose former Mayor Fiorello La Gaurdia, Liu John F. Kennedy, De Blasio La Guardia and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Weiner also chose FDR, but Thompson got the warmest reaction from the audience when he said “My father,” William Thompson Sr., a retired judge. Selgado chose Moses, to hearty laughs from the candidates and the crowd.
Asked what they considered the most important job in the administration, the candidates all said schools chancellor except Weiner and Salgado, who said police commissioner.
When asked how many times they would return to the neighborhood after the election, De Blasio said “100 times,” while Liu said it would require dozens of visits “just to visit Passover matzo bakeries.” Quinn said “a lot” while Weiner said “you’ll get sick of me before I get sick of coming.” Thompson with a smile declared, “Malcolm [Hoenlein] and Chaskel [Bennett] will make sure I’m back.” Selgado said he would return “every Sunday.”
Speaking at the forum directly to the candidates, FJCC member Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents, in his role as the evenings Honorary Chairman, spoke eloquently about the Jewish community and the Flatbush community in particular and its contributions to New York City. “People give so much to the community,” he said. “They only ask to be treated as equals in return. We try to take care of our own; we do not ask for special treatment, we want equal treatment…not to shunted to the side because we don’t have high crime.”
Mr. Hoenlein, a Flatbush community resident, underscored the need for City government to recognize and respect our community and to realize that communities like ours are the fabric and the backbone of this great city.
Asked for his thoughts on the FJCC inaugural event, FJCC Chairman Josh Mehlman commented that “tonight was a sign of our community’s stature that all the candidates attended and spoke directly to us about the issues that we are concerned about. This is the reason we formed the FJCC. We look forward to similar exchanges with other elected officials and candidates running for office.”